(CENTRAL DIVISION PREVIEW)
In-Depth analysis of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and Chicago Bulls. Eastern Conference Central Division Preview.
It’s horrible to talk about a team’s “good fortune” that stems from a catastrophic injury suffered by a player on one of their rivals. But the gruesome broken lower leg suffered by forward Gordon Hayward of the Boston Celtics just added another layer of complexity to the favorites to emerge from the Eastern Conference playoffs — which has traditionally been the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Of course, the Cavaliers have injury-related questions they’re still awaiting the
answers for as well; namely, whether the drop off from Kyrie Irving to Isaiah Thomas (for whatever portion of this season he plays) and Dwayne Wade (for however many minutes he plays this season) is good enough for the Cavaliers to win the East for the third year in a row.
The other question is the specter of LeBron James’ potential departure from Cleveland. Media narratives like this one can indefinitely linger over a team like a dark storm cloud, at least until the narrative is put to bed. James, for many reasons, has done no such thing.
So everything Cleveland does this season will be viewed through the lens of matching up with the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and whether their accomplishments this season will be enough to convince James to not leave town once more.
Projected Record: 54-28
After breaking through in every way possible last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming into the fifth season of his career only still entering the peak of his powers. Where can he take the Milwaukee Bucks in the upcoming season?
Heading into this year, it’s still hard not to marvel at all the things Giannis accomplished last year, whether it was putting an end to the team’s All-Star-less slump, leading the team in all five major statistical categories or being named the league’s Most Improved Player as well as earning All-NBA honors.
That’s why the Bucks stuck with their young core around Antetokounmpo: Khris Middleton, Thon Maker and rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon, along with Jabari Parker when he returns. This team has the potential to be very interesting, in terms of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
However, in order to do that, they’re going to have to go significant contributions from a bench that pales in comparison to the guys they’re backing up. Greg Monroe, Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, and Jason Terry don’t seem like guys you’d want to rely on, if you’re aspiring to be one of the best teams in the conference.
While It wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprising to see Milwaukee challenging for one of the top three seeds in the playoffs, we have to ask whether the team is really that much better than the one that won 42 games last year, and finished 6th in the East.
Projected Record: 44-38
The 2016-17 season was a large disappointment for the Detroit Pistons. After giving the Cleveland Cavaliers a good series in the 2015-2016 NBA playoffs, many thought that last season would be a coming out party for the Pistons.
Instead, the team got off to a rocky start, as point guard Reggie Jackson was sidelined for the first 21 games due to knee tendinitis. The Pistons as a whole were not talented enough to salvage the loss of their point guard and their season definitely reflected it.
In order to turn things around in Detroit, the leaders will have to improve dramatically. Center Andre Drummond must finally become the star that so many people thought he could be, by adding some offensive moves to his arsenal and improving his putrid free throw shooting; He shot an abysmal 38.6 percent from the free throw line last season, which made it very tough for Stan Van Gundy to find Drummond minutes in close games, especially in the fourth quarter.
The biggest move the Pistons made in the off-season was acquiring Avery Bradley in a trade with the Boston Celtics, to replace the departed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope The downside of the Bradley move was that it cost the Pistons another starter in Marcus Morris, who was shipped to Boston.
Another great addition that will also help enhance the Pistons offense is Luke Kennard, their first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Kennard had an outstanding Summer League for the Pistons, showcasing his prolific offensive prowess.
Detroit also signed Langston Galloway to a three-year deal worth $21 million. Galloway will likely slide into the de facto third point guard spot and should also contribute as a reserve scoring wing.
The bottom line is: Detroit will have to avoid the injury bug, and hope the new additions to the team don’t exacerbate an already finicky team chemistry.
Projected Recors 39-42
As any basketball fan is well aware of, the biggest news around the Indiana Pacers involves a guy who won’t be playing for the team during the 2017-2018 season.
After All-Star forward Paul George informed the team he was planning to leave Indiana during the 2018 free agency regardless, Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard decided that the combination of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis was a better compensation package than getting absolutely nothing for George when he left town.
So now, the team looks like it will rebuild itself around Myles Turner, Glenn Robinson III, and T.J. Leaf, along with Oladipo and Sabonis. That’s an interesting an talented young five, but one that’s going to have growing pains and more losses than wins in the short term. That’s not including veterans Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic as well. But all of them combined won’t be able to replace what Indiana lost in George, a top-15 player who led them to two conference finals.
But even if the Pacers are better than most expect them to be, the first 15 to 20 games figure to be a work in progress, as players learn about each other, and head coach Nate McMillan learns more about all the new guys on the team.
Projected Record: 31-51
There’s just no way to sugarcoat this: the Chicago Bulls are a really bad basketball team, and look like they’re headed in the wrong direction.
It’s hard to imagine the fact that this team once led the Boston Celtics by a 2-0 margin in the opening round of the 2016-2017 Eastern Conference playoffs. But they spent the off-season waiving Rajon Rondo (which was probably needed), buying out Dwayne Wade (which was a definitely needed since it was a terrible decision to begin with), and trading their lone All-Star in Jimmy Butler (which was also probably needed since Butler had no interest in watching this franchise self-destruct for yet another season).
Now, they’re left with a team that’s going to be even worse at shooting the ball (they were 25th in the NBA last year), and has exactly zero experience playing for a basketball team with a healthy locker room. That’s evidenced by the fact that forward Bobby Portis, the team’s first round pick in 2015, just punched out Nikola Mirotic in a fight during practice, and breaking several bones in the latter’s face, causing him to miss an indefinite amount of time before the season even started.
That’s why there are so many public movements by fans asking the team to dismiss Gar Forman and John Paxson, the Bulls’ general manager and VP of basketball operation. They have continued to make bad move after bad move, only to exacerbate that with even worse moves on top.
Projected Record: 19-63
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